Cook-off down to four cheftestants

After an intense round of quarterfinal competitions, the 2012/13 Bon Vivant Cook-off Series is down to four contestants with the finalists to be determined this week. 

The annual competition, which is only open to resident amateur chefs, will culminate at the 2013 Cayman Cookout Bon Vivant Taittinger Champagne Brunch on Sunday, 20 January. The ultimate winner of the competition will receive a trip for two to New York City on Cayman Airways and hotel accommodation at The Ritz-Carlton. Once in New York, they will attend Food & Wine Magazine’s Best New Chef event and have lunch in Eric Ripert’s flagship restaurant, Le Bernardin. 

Last week’s quarterfinals featured two doubleheaders of competitions. On Tuesday, 4 December, Marty Tammemagi – cooking solo – edged out Cody Bush and his trusty assistant Anthony Lawson. This was the second time both of the contestants had participated in the cook-off. 

Mr. Tammemagi impressed the judges with perfectly cooked mahi mahi, which was served with homemade gnocchi in a coconut sauce. Mr. Bush swung for the fences with local lobster Wellington with a spicy mango sauce, but with only 45 minutes to cook the dish and pressed for time at the end, the pastry on the Wellington came out just a little under-cooked.  

After a quick kitchen clean-up, first-time contestant Sarah Bourke took on returning competitor Jacqueline Hastings. Hastings’ pan-seared scallops and citrus soy glaze over asparagus and Cayman citrus coulis served with wasabi mashed potatoes didn’t have a great deal of local ingredients – one of the judging criteria – but it had just enough taste and presentation to get past Ms Bourke’s ambitious “Lionfish Invasion” – lionfish cooked three different ways. 

Ms Hastings will now take on Mr. Tammemagi in the first semifinal, Tuesday night starting at 6pm. 

On Wednesday, Maureen Cubbon, who is competing in her fourth Cook-off Series, narrowly defeated competition newcomer Megan Timmons. Both cheftestants impressed the judges with colourful and flavourful dishes, with Ms Timmons having a clear edge on presentation. However, cooking on a stove top she was unfamiliar with, Ms Timmons did not get her pan hot enough to crisp the skin on her pan-seared red snapper, causing her to lose points.  

Ms Cubbon, who used 11-year-old Justin Derrick as her assistant, prepared local lamb chops, which were served over homemade paneer cheese and sauteed local callaloo and kale along with local root vegetable rosti. 

In the end, Ms Cubbon won the competition by a single point in a rare split decision by the judges. 

The final quarterfinal featured two first-time competitors, 19-year-old Emily DeCou and Michael Treacy. Ms DeCou probably used more local ingredients than any other competitor in making her entree, which included grilled jerk-seasoned conch, mashed breadfruit and a mixed-green salad with citrus dressing.  

Mr. Treacy countered with “Three Lions on our Plate”, a trio of lionfish preparations. Although the judges were impressed by Ms DeCou’s ambitious effort, they were particularly impressed by the taste of all three lionfish preparations and they gave the victory to Mr. Treacy who, along with his assistant Neville Hicks, will advance to the semi-finals against Ms Cubbon this Wednesday starting at 6pm. 

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